Sunday, September 13, 2009

my mom's not a slut

I don't subscribe to the notion that you should wait until you're married to have sex. No surprise there. But somehow folks are surprised (and by folks I mean some women), when I reveal that I don't believe you should tell young girls not to give it up.

One fine day I was sitting in my living room with "Oprah" on in the background. The topic had to do with women and sex, not really sexuality or empowerment, more like the bad stuff. A few people in the audience seemed to be standing up giving testimonials. As Oprah grew more intent in her responses I started to listen. She seemed offended, set off, like you could see the heat rise up in her. Then she began to preach. Her basic message was that a woman's virginity, or her decision to have sex with a new partner, was a pearl to be placed in a box, tied with a bow, and put on a nice shelf. As I listened to her the heat started to rise up in me.

Girls: have you ever felt like your sweater had a big red "S" on it? "S" for "slut," of course, a nice badge of shame both you and your peers gave for taking the box off the dusty old shelf one night after you had too much vodka. And, girls, how long did it take you to shake the feeling of that brand for all the world to see?

Boys: I'm going to let you in on what it's like be raised a good girl. If you do things the right way, there's the promise of salvation. If you stray, it's Hell on Earth. Two paths. Your choice. Make it a good one. For the teenage brain this is a little too much weight to carry. Some girls get out from under the burden by choosing to save themselves. Others become high rollers, taking their chances with whatever the consequences may be, oftentimes bigger risks than they might normally take because there's no turning back.

The problem I have with all of this is that we draw a line in the sand and tell girls they are either good or bad, saved or sluts. While there surely must be fortitude that comes from saving yourself for marriage, or perhaps to a lesser degree for "the right person," there is also the by-product of making the rest of us into a bunch of sluts.

Every year a close group of my friends and their husbands/boyfriends congregate for a Christmas celebration. We break bread and open presents from our Secret Santas. This past year during the present opening, us girls got onto the topic of waiting until marriage. I quickly found myself the only one arguing to go ahead and do it. Why wait? I couldn't imagine any good reason. They wouldn't budge even though I kept pushing. I shouldn't have been surprised, really. They all grew up private school, and I'm a public school girl. But like I said, I kept pushing until one of them asked: "Wow, Vanessa, is your mom a slut?"

We aren't sixteen anymore, not twenty-five either. We're in our thirties, and we still carry the "slut" word in our back pocket like a trusty boomerang. It does the trick every time.